Visitors to the Saint Louis Art Museum’s new exhibit Global Threads: The Art and Fashion of Indian Chintz will not only be awestruck by the beauty of the works on display, but also get a glimpse into how these painted and printed textiles helped to spur on the industrial revolution and shape the modern world. Everything from fabrics that had been imported to Egypt and excavated through archeological expeditions to contemporary articles of clothing are being featured.
“The thing that makes Indian chintz, chintz is technique and not necessarily the look, or the style, or the aesthetic. So these textiles look very, very different. And that’s important for the exhibition because one of the great features of Indian chintz is that Indian painters and printers were able to really tailor the textiles for specific markets around the world,” says Genevieve Cortinovis, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Assistant Curator of Decorative Arts and Design at the Saint Louis Art Museum.
When one walks through this exhibit they’re sure to see a plethora of different styles and objects on display. Everything from stunning Victorian dresses to little Chinese stylized purses and enormous hanging palampores are on display. But one constant factor across all these works of art is that they were considered luxury items in their day.
“So when we think of something being chintzy we oftentimes think of it being kind of cheap or tawdry, and that is really not what these objects are. That is actually a term that came about in the early 19th century to describe factory made imitations of Indian chintz. And this is a really important part of the exhibition because the Europeans, in particular the British and the French, could not make colorfast cotton painted and printed textiles. This is not a technology they had really until the middle of the 18th century. And slowly they began to develop their expertise. And by the early 19th century, they had established a number of factories for mechanized production and they were able to eventually overtake the Indians as the primary producer of cotton textiles for the global market. And this, of course, is part of the industrial revolution; it is one of its main catalysts,” explains Cortinovis.
The mechanization of processing cotton, spinning, weaving, and printing, along with the creations of synthetic dyes, can all be traced back to the popularity of Indian Chintz and the desires of Europeans to recreate and profit off this unique artform.
Many of the pieces in this exhibit are extremely rare and can only be displayed once a decade for the sake of preservation, so this exhibition poses a valuable opportunity for the St. Louis community to experience this spectacular work in person. Global Threads: The Art and Fashion of Indian Chintz continues at the Saint Louis Art Museum through January 8, 2023. To Learn more please visit www.slam.org.